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Rooney: Tempe frustrations a puzzling shortcoming for CU Buffs football

Buffs still looking for first road win against ASU

Colorado quarterback Steven Montez and the Buffs struggled the last time they played in Tempe in 2017.
Cheryl Evans / The Arizona Republic
Colorado quarterback Steven Montez and the Buffs struggled the last time they played in Tempe in 2017.

It’s puzzling, isn’t it?

In the long, rich history of Colorado football the Buffaloes have traveled to Arizona State five times. Four since the programs became league-mates in the Pac-12 Conference. At the end of all five of those road trips the Buffs returned home with a fresh loss on the ledger.

As the Buffs once again travel to ASU, this time to face a 24th-ranked Sun Devils squad late Saturday night, they do so as a team attempting to rewrite history.

It’s a bit perplexing. ASU always has been a solid but not spectacular foe on the annual Pac-12 slate. Sun Devil Stadium rarely packs in a standing room crowd, and there is no evidence the home wins against CU have done anything to jump-start ASU’s fortunes in those particular seasons. More often than not, ASU trends the other direction after being hostile hosts to the Buffs. CU simply has never played well in Tempe and it’s a shortcoming quarterback Steven Montez, an otherwise articulate young man who has been part of the roster for two defeats at ASU, is at a loss to explain.

“I’m not really sure,” Montez said. “It’s a big stadium. It’s not the loudest stadium we’ve ever played in….I’m not really sure there is a reason. I don’t know. I don’t think it has anything to do with the venue.”

Granted, going winless in five games at ASU over the course of a football history that encompasses 129 seasons counts as the proverbial spit in a volcano. It’s a blip. But perhaps that ineptitude in Tempe shouldn’t be all that surprising. Since CU joined the Pac-12 prior to the 2011 season, Tempe hardly is the only place the Buffs have never posted a W. The same can be said for the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles Coliseum, Husky Stadium in Seattle, and even Cal’s Memorial Stadium. Going winless in five of the 11 venues the Buffs routinely visit in league play showcases exactly why CU goes into its 2019 Pac-12 opener with a 7-29 mark on the road since joining the league.

Take away the 3-1 road record the 2016 Pac-12 South Division champs put together, and that mark dips to an even more unsightly 4-28. That exemplifies perfectly the yawning gap first-year CU coach Mel Tucker is attempting to bridge with his tenets of toughness and resiliency as he heads south on his first road trip in black-and-gold.

Going winless in Tempe is the most boggling of those five winless Pac-12 venues for the Buffs. The Cal sample size is just two games. UCLA (0-4) boasted solid teams on the front end of that run, and the way things are looking for coach Chip Kelly’s bunch, the Buffs have a golden opportunity to end that drought in November. At the other end of that spectrum, USC (0-4 for CU on the road in Pac-12) and Washington (0-3) were among the top programs in the nation when CU made those visits.

ASU was ranked just once in those previous matchups for CU in Tempe, sporting a No. 23 ranking in 2011. Those Sun Devils owned a 6-2 mark after routing the Buffs by 34 points but that was the end of the momentum for ASU, which proceeded to lose its next five games. In 2013 a legit ASU squad that finished 10-4 thrashed CU by 41 points. The Sun Devils were 4-2 after topping CU 48-23 at home in 2015, but promptly lost three in a row and five of the next seven. In 2017, the Buffs couldn’t get out of their own way in a 41-30 loss.

With the possible exception of the 2013 ASU team, the Buffs haven’t squared off against overly intimidating juggernauts when they have visited Sun Devil Stadium. That’s the case again this season, despite ASU’s No. 24 ranking and a defense that certainly presents a formidable challenge.

Want mental toughness? For Tucker’s Buffs, flipping the standard script in an unfriendly venue would be a good way to start.